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Rethink Tuition Policies

May 1, 1998
Related Topics: Benefit Design and Communication, Career Development, Employee Career Development, Policies and Procedures, Featured Article
If your company spends money on employee tuition reimbursement, outdated policies may increase your costs. Typical policies are based on the traditional higher education system and fail to consider changes in technology that make nontraditional learning options both more available and more acceptable. It may be time to re-evaluate, if the following look familiar:

Employees select schools and programs with no guidance. While this policy allows maximum freedom to employees, few have the knowledge or the time to sift through the enormous variety of learning options currently available—telecourses, Internet, videotapes, credit for on-the-job training, testing programs, and so on. Many employees automatically will select the highest cost college in the area, mistakenly thinking that higher expense equals higher quality in education. Many courses are mis-selected or end up not being transferable. Providing guidance in house will result in cost and time savings as employees select coursework that’s appropriate for them and for the company.

Don’t assume that all necessary advising will be supplied by the college. College recruiters are knowledgeable about their campus and its programs and requirements, but can’t supply impartial advising that relates to all other local colleges or national programs.

Tuition reimbursement is limited to a few large, well-known traditional universities and colleges. The intense development of new options in learning over the past 20 years has happened largely outside the mainstream institutions, which continue to offer education designed specifically for the younger student, not for working adults. Because of innovative programming, many private universities cost less for the entire degree than state-aided campuses or even community colleges. Having greater variety to choose from means more people will be able to find a learning option that fits into their already busy lives, resulting in more committed and qualified workers.

Reimburse for tuition only, not fees. The lower tuition state-supported campuses usually charge additional fees, while the higher tuition private schools charge a single rate. Employees will pick the college with the single rate because, even though it may be the higher priced choice, it means less money out of their pockets.

Reimburse for traditional, classroom courses only. An increasing number of legitimate and regionally accredited colleges and universities offer courses through the Internet, computer and television, and grant credit for tests, corporate training, military training and other prior learning experiences. These options may cost considerably less than traditional coursework and may save an adult learner years in classroom study to complete a degree.

Provide no ongoing support for employees’ learning efforts. Studies show that companies realize a $10 return in productivity for every $1 invested in employee education. Yet, few companies provide continuing support or encourage those employees who seek higher education. Recognition through mention in the company newsletter or other nonmonetary incentives motivates employees with little cost.

The increasing pace of change in the world today indicates that employee education will continue to be an important function of business and industry. College tuition increases 11 percent to 14 percent annually, and sometimes semiannually. Adult learners represent 50 percent of the national college population. Increased use and increased expense mean corporations must pay attention to tuition-assistance plans. Companies must make sure they use all the resources available in higher education appropriately to ensure that the dollars spent on employee education bring a maximum return on their investment.

Source: Scottsdale, Arizona-based Educational Advisory Services Inc., the nation’s only educational brokering firm. Written by Dixie Darr, freelance writer and education consultant.

Workforce, May 1998, Vol. 77, No. 5, p. 104.

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